Everyone wants to give their children the best chance possible at a healthy life. Unfortunately, new research is showing that even at an early age children are at risk of ingesting unhealthy amounts of food-borne toxins.
A study conducted by researchers at the University of California, Davis, and UCLA found that many people, particularly preschool age children, are at high risk of arsenic, dieldrin, DDE and dioxin exposure. The study focused on pinpointing food with high concentrations of these toxins and determining how much of each food the subjects included in their diets.
In order to determine whether children were consuming excessive amounts of toxins, researchers compared established cancer risk benchmarks against what their subjects were eating. The results were alarming: all 364 children in the study passed the cancer benchmark for arsenic, DDE, dieldrin, and dioxin.
Even low exposure to these toxins can increase the risk of neurological impairment or cancer. While some of the toxin exposure found in this study came from processed food like potato chips, much of it came from pesticide exposure. Some of the highest concentrations were found on tomatoes, peaches, apples, dairy, and celery.
“We need to be especially careful about children, because they tend to be more vulnerable to many of these chemicals and their effects on the developing brain,” says Irva Hertz-Picciotto, chief investigator of the study.
While the conclusions reached by this study may seem dire, the researchers also outlined ways consumers can reduce the amount of toxins in their diet.
One of the easiest ways to limit exposure to the toxins found in pesticides is to switch from conventionally grown vegetables to organic. These types of produce tend to have lower pesticide levels and are grown in a sustainable, environmentally friendly way. If affordable organic produce is not easily available, consider growing vegetables of your own. Gardening is a rewarding hobby that both parents and children can enjoy.
Taking advantage of the variety of food available to you is another way to limit toxin exposure. Not all pesticides are used on all produce. An apple may not have been exposed to the same chemicals as a head of lettuce. “Because different foods are treated differently at the source, dietary variation can help protect us from accumulating too much of any one toxin,” says Hertz-Picciotto. Being committed to eating a variety of produce will also help to ensure that you and your family have access to the full spectrum of essential nutrients.
A diet heavy in conventionally raised animal meats and fats is also a diet heavy in toxins like DDE. Reducing the amount of meat consumed will help to lower your exposure, and if you eat meat, try to make it organic. For a lower fat and lower toxin alternative, you can substitute protein dense beans and grains for meat.
Some forms of dairy were also found to carry high concentrations of toxins. Switching to organic milk is an effective way to reduce this risk.
Much of the changes in diet that reduce exposure to toxins are changes that promote a healthy lifestyle and weight loss. Even taking a small step like eliminating potato chips can make a positive change. Processed grains like the ones found in chips and other snack foods can contain acrilomides, another toxin examined in the study.
More to Be Done
While this new study highlights some of the problems in our current diet, there is still work to do before we completely understand the way that our body deals with the toxins that it is exposed to on a regular basis. By determining how toxins interact with our bodies researchers will be one step closer to figuring out how much risk these toxins present.
In the mean time, it’s important to take steps to address your individual exposure to toxins as well as the exposure of the people around you. Changing your diet is a great place to start, but that is not necessarily where the issue ends. Addressing policy issues about how food is grown is essential in making sure everyone can live as healthily as possible. Chemicals that we use now may remain in our ecosystem for decades, regardless of whether they are damaging or not.
Whether you are responsible for young children or just yourself, lowering exposure to toxins is a healthy choice.